​‘Mine 21’ to Broadcast on PBS

“Mine 21” is a short documentary about the fatal coal mine explosion in Marion County. A 15-minute version of the film was screened in the communities affected by the Mine 21 disaster in 2018. In 2019, this 15-minute version was awarded the prestigious Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media by the Austen Riggs Center due to its sensitive depiction of trauma.

And now, “Mine 21” will be broadcast on PBS.

The documentary is directed by University of the South alumnus Stephen Garrett, C’01, and produced by Sewanee Classics Professor Chris McDonough. It tells the story of a deadly 1981 coal mine explosion in Whitwell, Tenn., by following two Sewanee students—Kelsey Arbuckle, C’19, and Alexa Fults, C’21—as they learn more about the disaster. Arbuckle’s grandfather, Charles Myers, was one of the miners killed in the explosion. Her grandmother, Barbara Myers, testified before Congress in the 1987 federal lawsuit.

The East Tennessee PBS station, located in Knoxville, Tenn., will air “Mine 21” at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 30, in a program titled “Appalachian Shorts: Coal Miners.” Also featured will be “Harlan County: Scenes from the Black Jewel Miner Blockade,” where filmmaker Sarah Moyer explores the perspectives of coal miners and their allies who are determined to receive back pay by seizing a trainload of coal. To view the trailer for “Appalachian Shorts: Coal Miners,” visit <>. A second showing has been scheduled for Feb. 6, at 8:30 p.m. Go to <http://www.easttennesseepbs.org/home/> for more information.

McDonough and Garrett have expanded the 15-minute documentary into a standard broadcast length format of 30 minutes. In addition to telling the original story, the longer version includes interviews with mine safety experts, labor historians, and community trauma researchers.

They had approached East Tennessee PBS about the possibility of airing the long version at some point. But the program director suggested they could pair Moyer’s video with the shorter version of “Mine 21” and call it “Appalachian Shorts: Coal Miners.”

In the meantime, the half-hour version is currently being considered by film festivals across the country this spring. “We are hoping to share this important story in places outside of the area,” said McDonough. “Festivals are a great way to bring attention to a film that audiences and distributors might not otherwise come across.”

“Definitely, we will show the longer version here,” he added. McDonough notes that a local screening sometime in the early summer seems likely.

For more information about the “Mine 21” project, go to https://mine21.com